Top official snubbed trams for taxpayer taxi

Sir Peter Housden
Sir Peter Housden
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SCOTLAND’S most senior civil servant enjoyed a string of chauffeur-driven car journeys of less than a mile - all at the taxpayers’ expense.

Sir Peter Housden, who stepped down last month, was regularly collected from his office at St Andrew’s house and taken to the Scottish Parliament just around the corner.

He also took trips from his Edinburgh home to Waverley Train Station and the Balmoral Hotel in an official car - a journey which would take minutes on foot.

The short distances through the capital can cost up to £6 with a standard taxi service.

The files, released under a Freedom of Information request, show that on one occasion he was driven just 500 yards.

In total, Sir Peter took 83 short chauffeur driven trips, the majority of which were under one mile.

And they included 35 round trips to Edinburgh Airport - instead of using the new tram system.

The Scottish Government has defended Sir Peter’s use of the service, insisting it allowed him to work while on the move.

But taxpayer’s groups have branded the figures “ridiculous” and called on the government to “get real”.

Eben Wilson, director of Taxpayer Scotland said: “The idea that someone would be able to do work on a 500 yard car journey is ridiculous. I’d be surprised if they’d be able to get a briefcase open.

“The Scottish Government needs to get real and reduce the civil service and save the taxpayer a lot of money from unproductive spending.”

Ironically, during Sir Peter’s tenure the Scottish Government launched a campaign urging people to “leave a car when it’s not far”.

It was part of a £58m push to get people to be more active.

At the time, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change Paul Wheelhouse said: “Short car journeys create more pollution per mile and it’s in everyone’s interest for all of us to consider whether these are really necessary.”

He pocketed a huge pay-off when he quit his £180,000-a-year post in June, and official government accounts reveal he is in line for a £250,000 lump sum - on top of an £80,000-a-year pension.

He said he was quitting “to enable my successor to come into post in good time for the run-up to the Scottish Parliament election in May 2016”.

Defending his use of the Scottish Government car service, a spokeswoman said: “It provides a secure place for the Permanent Secretary and Ministers to work whilst travelling, maximising time and opportunity to work.

“We do, however, continually look for ways to minimise the use of cars for official journeys.

“During his time as Permanent Secretary Sir Peter, like all staff, took his responsibility to travel sustainably very seriously and aimed to use the most cost-effective and sustainable forms of transport where possible.”